It feels like for about as long as there’s been a Marvel Cinematic Universe (a creation that might need a new name at this point, given how much of its related content is increasingly spread across television and streaming services) the names “Squirrel Girl” and “The New Warriors” have hung surprisingly heavy in the air; likely owing to their respective prominence in comic book storylines like the original Civil War that were newsworthy in the late ‘aughts when “Phase One” of the grand MCU project was gradually being rolled out.
While they might not be the ready-made household names of The Avengers or Spider-Man, the comedy-infused rodent-powered heroine and the teenage vigilante team both have devoted followings of loyal fans ever eager to see them cross over into mass-media; so it’s not exactly the biggest surprise that Marvel is unifying the two brands for a high-profile live-action series debut on Freeform (formerly ABC Family) to compliment the more serious-minded adventures of the already in-production Cloak & Dagger. But the New Warriors especially have had a widely-varied roster over the years (read more about them here!), so fans have been left to wonder which characters will be part of the inaugural lineup of the MCU New Warriors… until now.
With Marvel now having confirmed and released the official team roster for The New Warriors, here’s your quick primer on who these characters are and what to expect from them:
If Ms. Marvel (Kamala Kahn) represents the “serious” side of Marvel’s aggressive courting of a decidedly different type of audience from the traditional comics fanboy (specifically, Millennial “fangirls” with a YA-readership sensibility) then Squirrel Girl is the comedic side of that same coin – essentially, she’s the family-friendly answer to Deadpool.
Created by writer Will Murray and Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko in 1991 as a parody character (a lady hero framed well outside the “default” model for heroines, “gifted” with powers that don’t sound especially powerful, yet somehow defeats Doctor Doom), Doreen Green is a mutant – note the “small m,” making her legally distinct from the Mutants of the X-Men franchise – with the “powers” and bushy prehensile tail of a squirrel, plus the ability to communicate with them. Originally appearing only twice in the 90s, the character was relegated to little more than the occasional side-eyed reference (“Marvel has a character named what???”) before being revived by writer Dan Slott for the comedy miniseries Great Lakes Avengers: Misassembled.
The series earned the character scores of new fans, and she’s been a major presence in the Marvel Universe ever since; headlining her own ongoing series and at one point appearing regularly in the New Avengers books as the nanny of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ daughter. Marvel is heavily invested in the character these days, and it feels very much like the chance to realize her in a merchandisable live-action form (with a colorful cast to back her up) comprises a lot of the impetus behind launching New Warriors in the first place.
Another later Steve Ditko co-creation – this time with Tom DeFalco – Speedball (real name Robbie Baldwin) is the character most commonly associated with The New Warriors as a brand; both as it’s most consistent member and as the focus of its most notorious storyline.
Broadly-sketched as an attempt to create a new teen hero in the mold of Ditko and Lee’s original Spider-Man for an era (1988) where Peter Parker had been allowed to mature into early-adulthood, Speedball is an ordinary teenager who is accidentaly bombarded with otherworldly energy during a science experiment and becomes imbued with “kinetic energy” powers… which basically means he bounces – a lot – off of everything, like a human superball. In practical terms, this also means it’s difficult to actually hit or hurt him without simply increasing the recoil with which he’ll bounce back at you; a useful enough effect for a power set that otherwise makes one sound like they’d been bitten by a radioactive Tigger. Appropriately, he was typically framed as the New Warriors’ resident smart-alecky jester.
However, he was also the (accidental) catalyst for the botched supervillain-attack that caused the tragedy that touched off the original Civil War conflict; which in turn changed Robbie’s powers to being pain-based and inspired him to don a suit of armor that constantly cuts and stabs him in order to atone for his crime as the dark superhero “Penance” – a plot turn that many fans hated with a passion and will likely not be part of the setup for family-friendly Freeform.
The nominal leader of the original Great Lakes Avengers (a mostly humor-focused team created during the period where the Avengers’ roster had swelled to encompass both East and West Coast groups), Craig Hollis is basically a Highlander without any of the cool mythology to back it up. His power is that if you kill him, he comes back to life again – sometimes very angry, at first. Otherwise? He’s just a regular pretty in-shape guy who owns a superhero outfit.
The actual mechanics of Mister Immortal’s immortality are somewhat fluid in origin and canonicity, as befits a character who often existed to facilitate absurdity than gravitas. But in the comics his powers were originally tied to a demonic specter called “Deathurge” whom Craig and others had at one point dismissed as a childhood imaginary friend. Storylines involving Deathurge, as the name would suggest, tend to be pretty dark – so it’s an open question as to whether he’ll also be part of the New Warriors’ mythos.
One of the founding New Warriors, Night Thrasher is sort of a no-frills African-American equivalent to Batman: Traumatized by the murder of his wealthy parents, Dwayne Taylor trains himself in the art of combat and dons a suit of lightweight armor and a pair of batons (yes, Kick-Ass does in fact owe a lot of inspiration to Night Thrasher) to become a vigilante; founding the original New Warriors initially as an attempt to build his own equivalent to The Fantastic Four.
What will his role be like in the series? Thus far, Marvel is mainly teasing a reimagined Thrasher who retains his parents’ wealth to spend on the team but is also a YouTube celebrity who films his superhero exploits. It’s possible that subplot might extend to the whole team: The pre-Civil War incarnation of The New Warriors had licensed themselves to be followed by a camera crew for a reality television series (which turned out to be a bad idea, see: Speedball.)
The ability to communicate telepathically with germs (any germs) is, when you think about it, a power that could have made a hero a billionaire in the practice of medicine alone – after all, he can ask a flu bug exactly what its effects are and maybe get it to go away altogether. But the ability mostly makes Zachary Smith a hypochondriac who can’t help but know too much about where everybody has been. Understandably, comics writers have occasionally struggled with what exactly they should “do” with Microbe’s abilities, but the comedy potential (both existential and sophomoric) for a show aimed and younger teens is easy to understand.
A telekinetic whose comics backstory has only been lightly explored, Deborah Fields has telekinetic powers and a chip on her shoulder; originally having been introduced as a “wild card” to the reality TV incarnation of the New Warriors by their producers. Notably, the official press release about the series from Marvel describes her as a “confidently out” lesbian, which would make her only the second openly gay Marvel Cinematic Universe hero (and arguably the first of the “super” variety, since she gets a superhero name) after Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’s “Secret Warrior” Agent Joey Gutierreze. What her role will be otherwise remains something of a mystery, though the press release describes her as the team member most like to “call out” the others for falling down on their superheroic duties.